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tv   Book discussion on Toms River  CSPAN  November 27, 2014 8:32am-9:01am EST

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to be cut, here's $80 billion it is just a target for people that want a budget cut and nobody cares about the difference takes to a family that us poor. >> host: how did you get interested in the topic? >> guest: i like to eat a and from the first course i took you can't understand anything about why people eat the way they do. people don't eat food in a vacuum or make choices in the vacuum they make the choices they based on what the culture requires and a lot of it dips into the arcane politics. the most i can think of the
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sugar policy is extremely coordinated complicated. if somebody tells me they don't understand the farm bill i tell them they don't know what they are talking about. these are political decisions that have an impact on the lives not only of americans but the lives of people in the world. so we need to understand the politics and dietary overt goal is to get them into becoming advocates. >> host: foo >> next, dan fagin sat down with booktv discussed his book "toms river" about small town in
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new jersey that was negatively impacted industrial waste pollution. this interview was conducted in new york city. it's part of booktv's college series. this is about half an hour. >> host: "toms river" is the name of the book winner of the pulitzer prize for general nonfiction last year. nyu professor dan fagin is the author. professor, what is "toms river"? >> guest: toms river is again in new jersey, a small city at this point. i wrote about it because toms river was a town like any other town for a couple hundred years until the chemical industry came in in 1952. and that changed everything in toms river. this book tells the story of everything that happened next. >> host: what kind of town is toms river or what was it when
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you're writing about it? >> guest: before the chemical industry came to town it was a sleepy place where there was, there were tourists from the summer, but mostly there were farmers, chicken farming was a big thing in toms river. it was a quiet place and then it started to grow very rapidly once the chemical industry came to town and once the garden state parkway came in. it became a place where there were lots of rapid growth. for a while it was one of the fastest growing communities in the whole country. >> host: it is halfway between new york and philadelphia? >> guest: almost exactly halfway. sort of a triangle. >> host: why did the chemical industry come to toms river? >> guest: i get into that in the book. for some interesting reasons. the particular company we're talking about, it doesn't exist as an independent entity anymore but it was one of the traditional chemical giants and
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he began in switzerland, and basel. as i trace in the book it was a phenomenally successful but also environmentally problematic in many ways wherever it went. first in switzerland than in other parts of europe, in cincinnati. wherever it went, there were harangued his pollution problems and also health issues involving the workers. so the reason they came to toms river is they want a place where they would have plenty of space to get rid of their waste and the place where they could have more privacy. they found in toms river, the factory location was in the middle of the woods. it was set apart from the rest of the town. it was ideal in that sense. >> host: what do they manufacture and for what purpose? >> guest: domain product was a die. guys are the wellspring of the modern chemical industry. chemical industry period. all of the names come big names
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that we know so well like basf, the a stands for anil, and unties. and online guys were the first great synthesize commercially successful product. they were invented by a guy named perkins was a teenager at the time. he was 18 and he was experimenting in his parents attic in london. he was trying to find a cure for malaria. and instead he discovered that this medicine, this molecule he was experimenting with left a beautiful purple stain on his test to. and he thought i that would be a really useful commercial product. that's a the synthetic i industry began. it was quickly dominated by
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companies in switzerland and france. those companies expanded to other kinds of synthetic products, petrochemicals, plastics, and grew into these industrial giants. >> host: so to whom would toms river chemical or later on sell this product to? >> guest: the whole world goes when the most important die manufacturing factories in the whole world. it was used to dye clothes, used it i plastics and later on the same site starting in the 60s for the late 50s actually the expanded beyond dyes into plastics and other interesting useful synthetic molecules. >> host: what goes into the manufacture of a train for? >> guest: lots of things. the route of the original size was cold heart which was the first great chemical waste, a
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product of coal gas which is burned for energy in the 19th century. the kinds of dyes manufactured in toms river were a byproduct of petroleum. the thing about petroleum refining process is it generates a huge amount of waste. the companies were always looking for something to do with the waste. the problem with making it is that generation is the amount of waste itself, the manufacturing process. as i explained in the book it generates a lot more waste than actual useful die. than one product that you get from making these dyes is waste water. the company had to put that wastewater somewhere in they put into place as. they put in the ground which was
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singing these will ome into play into the toms river which is right next to the plant. the toms river really especially right there, nothing more than a little creek so at various points that was more waste water in the creek and there was actual water. it was a tremendous volume of waste. >> host: what was it like to live in toms river, new jersey, in the '50s and '60s when this chemical company was rolling along? >> guest: in some ways it was very nice. the town was growing fast. property values were growing very quickly. the ciba plant -- trend i was always the majority owner. they paid axel wages. it was a place where if you did have a college education you could get a good job. it would allow you to build a house.
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that was the upside. the downside was the was an increasing amount of water contamination. the drinking water started to snow. first at the water fountains on the factory itself and then later all around town because a contaminated the public water wells which were next to the river. so once the river was contaminated, the town was growing rapidly, so they pumped those wells very heavily. the world potential he drew the river water out through the banks and distributed that waste all over town. that later caused we think some very tragic consequences. >> host: you talk in the book about how secretaries at the plant would walk into the plant and their host would fall apart. >> guest: that's true. there were some volatile chemicals in the process. '03 in those days was a very durable, and the nylons would
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sometimes fall apart. that's true of. >> host: what was the town's attitude towards the plant country it changed over time. initially they were so grateful. when the plant opened up the had a ceremony. there were bands, blimps overhead but by the way it's just way down the road from where the hindenburg had exploded 15 or so years earlier. and people were quite celebratory because the feeling was that toms river needed all the economic stimulus that it could get. over time that started to change. for a few reasons. most importantly people started to be concerned about environmental issues in the '60s and especially the '70s and '80s and beyond. but also because the town grew and the plant was no longer central to the economic life of the town as it was in the '50s
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and '60s. >> host: dan fagin, 1978 love canal, how does that fit into your toms river story? >> guest: it does in a sense that environmental consciousness was slowly growing in toms river as it was throughout the united states your people started to ask questions. people knew about what had happened in love canal, a place where people come local residents in the community in niagara falls became so concerned about what was happening that for a day or two they essentially took epa officials hostage. they were very concerned and there was heavy television coverage of the, and the superfund bill passed congress and jimmy carter signed it. there was a feeling that hazardous waste was a big deal, something that had been neglected, which is true. so in toms river the advent of love canal and superfund was part of the reason why people
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start to get more and more concerned about the plant. the other big thing, of course was that people started keeping track of illnesses. that's the heart of my book, which is they were tracing the process of people becoming concerned. there seems be a lot of it was ever done, especially among children, especially cancer. and my book is in a way that sort of a mystery story come and ministry is why was there an unusual amount of childhood cancer -- childhood cancer in toms river? how do we scientifically go about the process of connecting and environmental exposure to health outcome? >> host: is there a connection or is a circumstantial? >> guest: the thing about epidemiology which a scientific word for this study of patterns of disease over space and time is that it's inherently a probably stick science, right?
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they can never tell you a circumstance. it's always about likelihood. so the whole idea that epidemiology, we'l will try to interpret these patterns and to see this is likely to be a coincidence or is there likely to be some connection between the environmental problems in the town and the unusual amount of cancer. the conclusion ultimately after an incredibly complex and to me really fascinating saga is that yes, scientifically a very sophisticated analysis was finally done and they did indeed draw that conclusion. >> host: a new book "toms river" you talk about the cancer cluster. what was the increase, not using the right word, but how much cancer was there in toms river as opposed to a regular population? >> guest: that's a really difficult question to answer because it depends on which
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cancer you're talking about. where you draw your lines. so it's difficult, there's a simple answer to that but one way to think about is when the state finally did a pretty good statistical analysis, not of what the cause was but one other words an unusual number of childhood cancers in toms river, the analysts found in 1995 that every single type of cancer you loolike it, every single familyf cancer had significantly more cancers than would have been predicted by the demographics of the town. in some cases five or six times more childhood cancer cases. it was a significantly higher number. on the other hand, childhood cancer is rare. that's one of the reasons why we get so concerned about it. so when we see it, we're not
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supposed to see that. so even though they were an unusual number of high number of cancers in toms river it was still a whole lot of cancer. ultimately, the legal settlement that was reached involved only about 70 families, families of the 70 children, some who died in some who didn't. that's problematic because in order to have a good statistical result, you want to have a lot of cases. it's like an opinion poll where if you only ask 10 people you can be very confident of who's going to win the presidents' day saw a poll of only 10 people. but if you asked 1000 people you can be more confident. the child -- the problem of childhood cancer, we have an unusual amount of but it's still not that many cases so there's always going to be significant uncertainty. and to this day there will be people who tell you i don't think that, i just don't buy it. good scientist will tell you i just don't buy it, that
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environmental exposure was responsible. although the majority view does. >> host: where did you find this story? >> guest: well, i was a reporter for newsday for many, many years and the people of long island where i got a lot of my work were very concerned about cancer patterns but the women of long island were concerned about is cancer patterns. i had written a lot about breast cancer epidemiology, about breast cancer clusters, trying to figure out what do we know about what they really mean. and i never really felt like i was getting to the heart, really answering, addressing the concerns of what the women of long island were concerned about it i also felt the science done on long island wasn't particularly good science. so when i heard about this town on the jersey shore were a really what i think was a really high quality useful sites was being done, that really
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interested me. i went down there and wrote about it at our thinking at the time, wombat, this would be a really good book. a few years later when i went to nyu i had the opportunity to begin to work on the book and that's how it happened. >> host: were you able to talk with former ciba officials, former town officials? >> guest: absolutely, absolutely. some of them were hesitant to speak to me for predictable reasons. but i did indeed conduct many interviews with former trend line managers and workers and also former town officials. you know, i think there was a feeling in the town that they had been through a kind of hell and people reacted to that in two different ways. there were a group of people in touch is wanted to move on, ma and try to forget that it happened. but most people who i spoke to really felt strongly that they didn't want what they've gone
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through to be wasted, to be forgotten. they wanted the world to know what the adventure and the one of the world to learn from it. so i was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who were willing to talk tim to went to e plant shutdown? >> guest: it was a long process. for many years the manufacturing had stopped but they're still research underway. i might be wrong about this i believe that the research and stopped approximately 91, something like that. i think that's right. but it was a gradual process. and again, it's anecdotal but one of the encouraging things that the data show is that, there's a chart in the book, and it shows the rate of childhood in kenya per 100,000 in toms
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river, called the toms river core, and also the new jersey statewide rate of childhood leukemia. and what you see that the toms river rate is very high and then it drops to two things happened when the rate dropped. this plant closes down, and the other thing that happens at about the time the rates begin to decline is that another superfund site in town, they're important, that contaminated, illegal dumping, contaminate all other different set of water wells and those wells were finally properly filtered. again, it could be coincidental but simultaneous to those environmental problems being solved you see leukemia declining significantly in toms river to the point that it is actually below the state average. so that's good news and it shows that if we are aggressive and
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proactive and willing to take action, even in the face of incomplete evidence because we will never know for sure, but if we use our common sense, we can protect public health. we can intervene appropriately. and i think in this country we expect too much. we assume that we can get certain information, that we can have certainty. but we don't always have certainty so we need to learn to live with evidence that is less than certain, and to take sensible action even if we can't say for sure that it's going to help. >> host: how did winning the pulitzer for this book change your world, change your life? >> guest: it's been great in the sense that i think more people have discovered the book, many more people have discovered the book. it's a wonderful thing because i spent six years on this book that i want people to read it. so that's been a good thing.
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it's a given the book more attention around the world, which i care a lot about because i'm very concerned that some of the same mistakes that occurred in also come in cincinnati, in toms river, many of the same mistakes, that pattern is reasserting itself especially in the developing world but especially in china. so the pulitzer has really helped if the word out about the book and there will be a chinese language edition of the book coming out next year which i'm very happy about, and i think that the pulitzer has played a key role in just sort of raising the visibility of the issue, that the book looks at, which is again, its focus on the idea that anyone who tells you that it's too complicated and we can never tell what the effect of,
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you know, we can't draw any kind of connection between an environmental exposure and a chronic disease like cancer that might not appear for another five, 10, 12 years after the exposure. i tell them, learn about toms river. because toms river, while we can't say for sure, very good science suggested is a good relationship but i think that's the message people need the message people they do here and i'm happy that the pulitzer is helping get the message out can one do places like the toms river still exist in the u.s.? >> guest: it's hard to know because of course if they did exist then we knew for sure there was an elevated cluster that was statistically tied to an exposure. we would probably do something about it. i did explain in the last chapter of the book where some of the clusters are. there's a famous one in nevada. and there are others, florida, new mexico, many others.
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is a national disease cluster alliance that your viewers can google and you will see a map of the recent disease clusters. so we know these clusters are all over. we also know that sometimes things cluster for no reason, that clusters can occur just to randomness. so that's the job of epidemiology to try to help us figure out which clusters have a cause in which are random, and also to try to figure out what's the likely cause of the cluster. my own view is that, of course, there are almost certainly other toms river's out there but they're not so easy to identify. and there's also a real question about whether public agencies are willing to spend the many millions of dollars that were spent on toms river to do similar studies in other places. generally they are not willing to do that. the outcome is too uncertain and the feeling is that vested
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interests will not be happy about it. there are really many factors weighing against doing the kind of interest in science that was done in toms river. but my own view is we need much more of that. and i'm hoping that will be another way that the book can help and that the pulitzer can help, violating communities know that it is important to look at clusters. clusters are a clue, a piece of evidence and we shouldn't ignore that evidence. in the book i go back and i have some historical sections were a talk about how the science of epidemiology developed, and what i hope that i shall is that we learned a heck of a lot about human health. and we saved millions of lives by looking at the evidence of pattern, i'm looking at epidemiology. i hope we keep doing that.
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>> host: in fact the children who wrote a history of cancer blurbs the front of your book, "toms river." has superfund been a successful policy, helping the environment in your view? >> guest: that's a complicated question. i think we need superfund. we couldn't possibly have just left those sites alone. the public would not have stood for it. and many of the sites pose a real risk to adjacent areas. and so we just had to do something more constructive which is relocating entire communities away from the site unless we clean them up. the superfund that sony has some problems. it's now 40 plus years, almost four years since the superfund past, 38 years thing i got that right. and some of the sites are only now being removed from what's
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called the national priorities list. nobody ever thought it would take this long, and it's been a feast for lawyers and other folks who are engaged in the sort of battle of experts that occurs over every one of these sites. but even given all that, i'm not sure that there would have been a good alternative. we needed to do something, and the bottom line is that superfund has taken a long time, it's been incredibly expensive but these sites are being cleaned up. the toms river sites are great examples. neither of them are cleaned it. they will be contaminated water being pumped up and treated for at least another 12, 15 years in both cases. but those sites are much, much cleaner than they were. that's a good thing. >> host: do you drink the public water in toms river when you're done their? >> guest: i do. i have no reason at all to be concerned about the current
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state of water supply in toms river. in fact, i think there are good reasons to think that the toms river, the air and water in toms river actually is probably better than in many other suburbs in the sort of industrialized northeast. and the reasons are, the reason is, you can guess, there's been so much attention, so much scrutiny happening in toms river. i'm much more concerned about the places that have not gotten attention. so yes, i drink the water and i see no reason that people shouldn't live in toms river, and the reason that people shouldn't drink the water. >> host: here's the cover of the book, "toms river: a story of science and salvation." 2014 pulitzer prize for general nonfiction, dan fagin, associate professor of journalism at new york university is the author. >> booktv is on facebook. like us to get publishing this, scheduling updates, behind the
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